“[…]we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us…”
–the words of Christopher Columbus, quoted from “El Requerimiento” in Wilcomb Washburn, ed. The Indian and the White Man
Many are under the wrongful impression that the United States of America not only embodies all the ideals of liberation and compassion required in a just nation, but that the formation of ideals in the creation of a utopic society is unprecedented. At best, the concepts of freedom and individual rights on which America was (supposedly) founded were borrowed, pre-established wisdom, appropriated from the Constitution drafted (unwritten) from the Iroquois by racist slave-owners (your beloved founding fathers) and imposed on an unsuspecting population, while modern-day white feminism championed by Abigail Adams and her like was in itself appropriated from Native women. None of the ideas of tolerance, acceptance, or freedom for which the United States are famous–and infamous–are unique or even attributable to the white patriarchal league of so-called “founding fathers.”
While non-Native recipients of the sneer, “Go back home if you hate it here so much” are accustomed to retorting with, “Go back to Europe,” a poignant response to the non-Native non-African circumstance is to draw attention to the fact that Europeans have illegally invaded, slaughtered, conquered, and raped populations in all but 22 countries and now fear the repercussions in “their” country. The reality that a white person would spew anything along the lines of, “Go back home,” to a person whose country he invaded, which includes not only Native American nations–though let’s not be mistaken, Natives should be the focus as we both unwillingly and willfully reap the benefits of stolen Native land–is nothing short of preposterous. I’ll get out of “your” country if you get out of mine.
In Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, Juan Gonzalez has the same thought,
“If Latin America had not been pillaged by the U.S. capital since its independence, millions of desperate workers would not now be coming here in such numbers to reclaim a share of that wealth; and if the United States is today the world’s richest nation, it is in part because of the sweat and blood of the copper workers of Chile, the tin miners of Bolivia, the fruit pickers of Guatemala and Honduras, the cane cutters of Cuba, the oil workers of Venezuela and Mexico, the pharmaceutical workers of Puerto Rico, the ranch hands of Costa Rica and Argentina, the West Indians who died building the Panama Canal, and the Panamanians who maintained it.”
All countries contemporarily viewed as “backwards” or “depraved” have been made so by an influx of white illegals (the only kind), who ravaged the land and population of its resources. Based on the precedent–and divergent from the precedent–established by these war criminals, I claim the US against the wishes of white settlers as negatively incorporated into my identity, and I live within it with as much peace as I can muster considering the violence in the history of this nation, because those who rule it colonized and occupied the country of my birth. I recognize that the land on which I live rightfully belongs to the Ohlone, was built by slaves and immigrants, and is wrongly credited to white patriarchal and false founding fathers who should be stripped of all dignity. White violence continues to plague Native peoples as well as the descendants of African slaves, and the recent violence in Ferguson perpetuated by white supremacy can attest to this.
I am a settler, and I am prepared to undo this history.
The violence with which Native American nations and the women of which they were composed were tortured, imprisoned, and dehumanized is glossed over even despite clear documentation. A childhood friend of Columbus, Michele da Cuneo, recounts amusedly in his journal the rape of a Native woman,
While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.
Native American girls as young as three were sold in slave markets by the colonists, trafficked for both labor and rape.
Much like the abstract concepts of freedom and protection are falsely attributed to the United States, so were many of the innovations invented by the Natives. Contrary to what is taught in history textbooks, Native Americans did not “live like animals”; in fact, while Europeans fetched drinking water from fetid rivers for centuries even after encountering the complex irrigation systems of the Natives, refused to bathe and never removed their clothes, and dumped the corpses of their dead into open pits, the white men were astounded by the Natives’ cleanliness and hygiene. The Natives of Tenochtitlan had a complex network of canals as well as gorgeous floating gardens. They attempted in vain to teach the white men how to bathe.
History books deliberately paint an inaccurate picture of how advanced and well-equipped the Native Americans were, and how strategic the organization of Native cities, because Europe was so shamefully backwards in comparison. In fact, the word “city” is rarely used, if ever, in history books to describe the living organizations of the Natives, relying instead on the connotations of the word–outrageously enough–“settlements.” Even the white colonialists, however, had referred to these places as “cities.”
When we entered the city of Iztapalapa, the appearance of the palaces in which they housed us! How spacious and well built they were, of beautiful stone work and cedar wood, and the wood of other sweet scented trees, with great rooms and courts, wonderful to behold, covered with awnings of cotton cloth […] we went to the orchard and garden, which was such a wonderful thing to see and walk in […] the paths full of roses and flowers, and the native fruit trees and native roses, and the pond fresh water. There was another thing to observe, that great canoes were able to pass into the garden from the lake through an opening that had been made so that there was no need for their occupants to land. And all was cemented and very splendid with many kinds of stone monuments with pictures on them, which gave much to think about. –journal of Bernal Diaz del Castillo
Instead of learning from the Natives, the white settlers dug random holes in search for gold, until they began to starve and dug up corpses of passed away indigenous persons to eat, at which point they captured some Native Americans to force them to teach the settlers how to farm. As Robert Beverley recounts in History and Present State of Virginia on what is known today as the “Thanksgiving” feast, “the colonists offered the Indians a toast to eternal friendship, whereupon the chief, his family, advisors, and two hundred followers dropped dead of poison.” The extermination of the Native American race was approved by the “founding fathers” including George Washington, who wrote, “The Indian country must be destroyed.”
Untold in most history books is the slavery of both Native Americans and Black Africans, so immense and horrifying that entire cities of Natives and Blacks would join to overthrow white settlers. Together, they had been a strong force and white settlers would face defeat over several years.
Settlers of color, these are the rightful founders. You owe the recognition of your rights not to the illegal confiscation of a nation by war criminals, but to the Native Americans who suffered to overthrow them, and later to the Black Power Movement that secured your rights.
Denounce the term “founding fathers” and all its associations; it is unacceptably patriarchal and devotes itself to a legacy of genocide, rape, and nonconsensual governance.